LANGUAGE LAW - WHAT NEXT?

13.08.12


Language protest 3

Since President Yanukovych signed the shameful language bill last week, there has been a series of developments, both expected and unexpected.

The bill became law on Friday, 10 August. On that day, Hanna Herman, one of the President's leading advisers, gave an interview to the radio station "Echo of Moscow", in which she said that the language bill was 'very raw' and contravened several other laws and statutes. She said that work had already begun on the amendments needed to the new law, and that she expected the qualifying threshold for an ethnic language to gain regional status to go up from 10% to 20-30%. This raises more issues about the way in which the Ukrainian parliamentary system can allow laws to be passed when amendments that are proposed can be ignored, and when a proposed new law conflicts with others already in place.

While the Party of the Regions praised the President for signing a 'historic' new law which guaranteed equal rights for non-Ukrainian speakers, the opposition parties said that they had no intention of joining the working group which will develop amendments to the law. Anatoliy Hrytsenko said that this was the equivalent of the President hitting the whole Ukrainian nation in the face, then saying that everyone should help stroke it better. The first meeting of the group to 'improve' the language law was held today and chaired by Ukrainian Vice Premier Raisa Bohatyriova.

Also today, Odesa City Council was the first to approve a special instruction, making Russian an official regional language, saying that this would now allow them to 'protect' the Russian language. This now raises issues about what will happen to the instruction if the language law is amended in September. It is not at all clear whether this decision will be an irreversible step. This comes only days after the Deputy Director of Odesa's education department said that 52% of parents whose children are starting school this September had said that they wanted their children taught in Ukrainian.

In an odd twist to the language law saga, nine Ukrainian organisations in Crimea applied for Ukrainian to be given regional status protection, saying that, as 24% of the population spoke Ukrainian, then 24% of schools should teach Ukrainian and 24% of the language budget should be devoted to Ukrainian, as opposed to the minimal amount devoted to Ukrainian now. The Vice-speaker of the Crimean Parliament dismissed the calls as a political stunt, and said there was no need for Ukrainian to be given any additional protection.

European reaction has been cautious, but a representative of Stefan Fule, Commissioner for European Enlargement, said that such fundamental changes to national language policy should be made only after careful consideration, wide discussion and national concensus.

Further turmoil, both social and political seems certain, with community organisations and political parties planning widespread action against the new law on Ukraine's Independence Day on 24 August.

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